"Nicely Played"

Playing in a national Open Pairs, our opponents are not at the table for the beginning of the round. They show up, looking sheepish, seven minutes into the 15-minute round. We say, "not to worry, we play fast." The first board is trivial and takes a minute or two. The second board isn't and takes longer.

I deal myself  S:86 H:K95 D:AQ963 C:K85. I open 1D:, and over partner's 1S:, rebid the obvious 1NT. Partner bids 2D:, which we play as an artificial game force. I could rebid 2NT, but I see no good reason not to emphasize my good five-card suit, so I bid 3D:. Partner raises to 4D: and I have a bidding problem. I think we are more or less committed to slam now; 3NT is surely playable. My hand has sterile shape, but the high card structure seems suitable for a high-level contract, so I keep the ball rolling with 4H:. Partner ends proceedings with 6NT, and I wonder if this bidding made any sense.

Answer: not really. The opening lead is the S:7. Dummy's shape is also sterile, but at least we have lots of aces and kings. That's not the same as lots of tricks, though.

S: AQ1054
H: AJ6
D: K85
C: A10
S: 86
H: K95
D: AQ963
C: K85
Assuming I can bring in the diamonds, I have one spade, two hearts, five diamonds, and two clubs, for ten tricks. I don't like that S:7. If it's shortness, I'm going to need the heart finesse and a black suit squeeze, which doesn't feel real likely. I'll need to rectify the count, and maybe it's an honest fourth best (yeah, right), so I insert the S:10 from dummy. Wonder of wonders, it holds. Maybe spades are 3-3 onside...in that case, I don't even need to bring home diamonds. I cross to the D:A and take another spade finesse, which wins. LHO obligingly plays the S:9 rather than the card he was known to hold, so when RHO follows, I know spades are 4-2. If diamonds come home, I'm up to twelve tricks. Maybe partner's bidding wasn't so bad after all. Let's see what's going on in diamonds. I cash the D:K, and everyone follows. Mike Flader (a national tournament director) is hovering; we are now one minute into the next round. I look at him, and he just nods, suggesting that he knows the opponents arrived late and I'm to carry on.

I have twelve tricks right now. I can take the heart hook for the overtrick, but I won't do that, because if the finesse is working, I don't need to take it. LHO will be squeezed on the run of the minor suit winners, so I'll be able to drop a doubleton H:Q offside. I don't think that's real likely, though. If LHO had five hearts, he'd've led one at trick one. Let's run a few more tricks and see what happens. I can always fall back on that line later. I cash the S:A and RHO pitches a heart, as do I. I play another diamond, and RHO shows out, pitching a club. One more diamond gets a heart from LHO and a club from RHO, as I shuck a spade from dummy. The position is now

S: 5
H: AJ6
C: A10
H: K9
D: 3
C: K85
LHO had seven diamonds and spades and RHO only four. A priori, that means that RHO is 9-6 to hold the H:Q. Their discards have not suggested that RHO doesn't have it, so I'm going to play him for it. I cross to the H:A, come back to the H:K, and cash the last diamond. If RHO has the H:Q, I'll have a double squeeze around clubs for the overtrick. The opponents struggle with their discards on the last diamond, each pitching clubs reluctantly, and as RHO does have the H:Q, I make all thirteen tricks for a fine score.

We are three minutes into the next round as I hand the score slip to the opponents to sign. Flader murmurs to me, "nicely played," as he hurries them along to the next table.

Copyright © 2006 Jeff Goldsmith